Through hundreds of interviews with youth and their families, award-winning author and journalist Nell Bernstein explored the physical and psychological abuse in state-run juvenile detention facilities.
On The Daily Circuit, Bernstein discussed some of the facts behind the system and the stories she heard during her research.
She said one of the biggest factors hurting troubled kids who get into the juvenile prison system is how we speak to them:
Amanda, a caller from Mankato, spent time in the system and said she felt she ended up in facilities because no one wanted her:
8 facts about juvenile detention, crime
1. 1 in 10 in juvenile detention is sexually assaulted by a staff member.
2. One-third are on the receiving end of physical abuse or excessive force.
3. 75 percent of young people locked up, including those in state facilities, are there for non-violent offenses. About 40 percent of them are in for what Bernstein considered very minor offenses such as truancy, shoplifting or being late for school.
4. Race and class, more than anything else including behavior, determine who gets locked up in this country. Bernstein said it's described by sociologist Victor Rios as the "culture of control" that permeates our neighborhoods of color.
5. The United States spends $88,000 a year on average to incarcerate a juvenile, compared to $10,000 a year to educate them. "They get that difference," Bernstein said.
6. A black teenager is 4.5 times more likely than a white teenage to be incarcerated for the same offense. Those gaps widen further as the teens become adults.
7. The common assumption that juvenile crime and arrests go up in the summer is now reversed. Instances actually drop because they aren't regularly encountering adults with power, including school officers and principals that can lead them into the system.
8. Separating violent juvenile offenders from discussion of juvenile crime isn't always appropriate. Dan, a caller from Texas, operates the non-profit Redemption Project. He works with children who kill their parents and said more than 90 percent of them don't commit another crime in the future.
"These children kill their parents, despite the fact that they're hard-wired not to, because the parents have been abusive in some way," he said. "These children do all that they can figure out to do... We put them into a corner and offer them no help whatsoever."
A look inside Red Wing
For her book, Bernstein visited the Red Wing juvenile correctional facility. She described her visit on The Daily Circuit:
Red Wing was one of the most confusing places I have ever been. It was beautiful. To look at, it looked like it could have been a prep school. Very impressed by what the then-warden had to say about the kids. What impressed me most was that it was the only facility I visited where I was chaperoned only by young people. He just sort of called two guys over and had them spend the day showing me around. There were so many volunteers at Red Wing that when I was there they outnumbered the kids. They had grandmothers in the cottages making milk and cookies.
And yet, as these two young men were telling me these stories, as one of them quite tragically described Red Wing as the safest place he'd ever been, an alarm went off. We had to stand a half-hour, 45 minutes where we were. What that alarm meant was that a young person was being taken to the essentially solitary confinement wing... Ultimately it was how good Red Wing appeared to me that helped convince me that locked facilities are never going to be the answer. Even in a good one, here was a practice widely known to be torture.
If you've spent time in a juvenile facility, what happened while you were there? Was it helpful in any way to setting you on a better course? Leave your stories in the comments below.